…without getting slapped by copyright law
Copyright lawyers have this joke: “A picture is worth a thousand words, but a copyright-protected picture is only worth three words: cease and desist.”
I didn’t laugh when I first read it because I am a chicken when it comes to taking legal risks.
But, as a writer, I still have to use images in every article to support my storytelling and to reach my audience. And for my recent post, I needed pictures of five entrepreneurial celebrities: Ben Horowitz, Gary Vee, Seth Godin, Cal Newport, and Darren Hardy.
I could grab some pictures from Instagram, Twitter, or a Newspaper and then splash them into my article. But my inner chicken was clucking me to do some research into copyright beforehand.
Look, I am not a lawyer, and none of this is legal advice. But here are the two striking things I discovered.
First, the consequences of infringing on someone else’s copyright are not a joke. Charges can go as high as $150,000 for each violation, excluding all attorney fees and court costs. In extreme cases, the copyright violator can face jail time.
Now, I haven’t heard of any writer who had to go to jail for illegally posting an image of a celebrity, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be careful.
Second, I discovered easy, free, and legal ways to reuse celebrity photos. I will demonstrate them later.
But first, let’s start by busting a few myths about copyright.
It is tempting to reuse images you find on the internet. The problem is most of the visuals out there are protected by copyright.
Copyright is “a federal law that protects original works of authorship. A work of authorship includes literary, written, dramatic, artistic, musical, and certain other types of works.”
Copyright applies as soon as someone creates an original piece of artwork. This happens regardless of whether a professional camera or a smartphone was used.
The celebrity’s picture may not even belong to the celebrity herself, but to the photographer who took the photo. They took it, They own it.
What does this mean for us?
As writers and bloggers, we should not take any image from the internet and reuse it even if we attribute the original image and provide the link to the original. Unfortunately, a mere attribution does not free us from copyright violation.
But luckily, there are legal and free alternatives. So read on.
Unfortunately, modifying a copyrighted image does not automatically transfer copyrights to you. Moreover, you are making yourself potentially liable once you reuse a copyrighted image.
So any changes you apply to the image, such as adding a quote next to the face of your favorite entrepreneur, does not relieve you from potential liability.
Fortunately, there is an easy and free way to legally modify copyrighted images so you can reuse them in your blog post. I will explain how to do this later.
Most images published after 1989 do not require the prominent encircled “c” — the copyright sign — to indicate that the image has copyright. Copyright attaches automatically at the time the photographer hits the shutter button on their camera.
Sara Hawkins from Blog Law recommends the following: assume that every image you find online is copyrighted. This includes every image on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
Fair use is one of the most complex subjects in copyright law.
We often assume that it’s ok to reuse someone else’s material in our articles as long as we only reuse it a little bit, and we attribute the source. However, that’s something related to plagiarism, which is different from copyright.
If you’re using the image to pretty up your blog, then this might not fall under copyright fair use. Instead, you may want to try one of the safer bets I suggest in the following sections.
Let’s assume you find a suitable celebrity image on Facebook or Google. The looks, the angle, and the expression on the image fit perfectly to your article’s message. You crave to use this photo in your blog.
The simplest solution is to ask the photographer if you can use the image in your post. There is a chance that they will say yes. However, they may request an attribution so that others know the photographer’s name. In this case, you should include the text “photo courtesy of,” and then add their name.
Photographers have all the reasons to say no, but the experience shows that most will agree.
However, if they do say no, that is a signal for you to move on and look elsewhere. So read on if the above option fails. There is a fantastic alternative.
Sounds simple, but millions of high-quality images are available for free without having to worry about violating copyright.
The thing is, many photographers are willing to give away their work for free. Consider this altruism or a smart marketing move to expose their names to the public. In any case, these images can be legally reused, modified, and shared without paying a single cent.
You can find a myriad of such images on CreativeCommons.org, Wiki Commons, and Flickr.com. These sites collect images that creators have distributed with blogger-friendly creative commons licenses.
I typically select these licenses in my search filter on CreativeCommons.org:
- License CCO
- License Public Domain Mark
- License BY
- License BY-SA (Share-alike)
- License BY-SA-ND (note: you can use these images, but you must not modify them)
I choose them because they allow me to reuse images for commercial purposes. But at this point, we can argue whether blogging is considered commercial use or editorial use.
A blogger can make money through a partner program and promote their coaching business on their blog. On the other hand, the same blogger covers stories and expresses themself artistically in writing, which would constitute editorial use.
Again, I am not a lawyer so I don’t know which of the above is the ultimate truth. But selecting commercial use licenses seems like a safe bet because it allows both editorial and commercial uses.
Licenses CCO and Public Domain Mark are most generous because “you can copy, modify, distribute, and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.”
In this case, images belong to the public domain so they have no copyrights attached to them. So you can reuse them even without attribution. However, it is a common and friendly practice to mention the author despite the freedom to use their images.
Although you can reuse public domain images freely, there are some minor restrictions. For example, you should avoid any endorsement by the author or the person depicted. Don’t make it look like the celebrity supports your views and opinions.
Licenses BY, BY-SA (Share Alike), and BY-SA-ND (No Derivatives) allow you to reuse, copy, and share images for commercial purposes too. However, they require you to attribute the image every time you use it.
CreativeCommons.org makes it easy to attribute its images. The site already provides an attribution text with links that you can copy and paste next to your image. See how I did that for the photo of Seth Godin below?
So why are there three different licenses if they all require the same attribution in our articles? The difference becomes apparent if you plan to modify the images. Read on because rules apply before you can use a modified picture in your post.
Modifying a celebrity photo to create your own title image is a popular trend among bloggers nowadays. A photoshopped portrait gives your article an additional creative touch so it shines amongst all other articles which use stock images only. But can you modify a creative commons image without infringing its copyright?
The good news is that nearly all licenses mentioned above allow you to make modifications: CC0, Public Domain Mark, BY, and BY-SA. The only license that prohibits any modifications is the BY-SA-ND (no derivatives) license.
When you modify CC0 and Public Domain Mark images, you can distribute them without any attribution to the original. Other licenses demand attribution.
Let’s say I want to crop a BY or a BY-SA image of Seth Godin — a marketing and entrepreneurship guru — for my blog post. Now let’s learn how to attribute my modified image.
The license text of BY reads: “To use the image legally, you must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made.” So besides attribution, we also need to describe the changes we made to the image.
First, I am going to add the attribution text provided by CreativeCommons.org by simply copying and pasting it as caption text under my image. Then I will add the description of my changes at the end of the attribution: “cropped from original.”
The BY-License even allows me to attach a different license to my customized image. For example, if I wanted to prohibit others from further modifying my creation, I could license it under BY-SA-ND. However, I tried to keep things simple, so I used the original attribution text in my caption.
You can learn more about licensing your creations on Wikipedia.
License BY-SA is similar to BY but has a restriction on how you share your modifications. SA stands for Share-Alike. This means that “if you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original.”
In other words, you must label a modified BY-SA image as a BY-SA image in your caption.
If everything above fails, you can refer to the following solutions to obtain your celebrity images:
- Buy an image from a stock site like Gettyimages. However, be prepared to cash out a few hundred dollars to obtain a single image license.
- Embed images from Gettyimages or Twitter. This is an elegant and free way to place images in a blog. However, there is a downside: A common embed service Embedly does not list Getty as a provider. As I tried pasting the link in this article, I only got a small thumbnail of the image, which does not qualify as a title image. But it’s worth to watch this space because Gettyimages is not cheap.
- Take your own photographs of the celebrity. This can be a feasible option if you have access to the whereabouts of the celebrity. Especially, conferences and shows offer a great chance to take some unique shots for your next blog post masterpiece.
With all that has been said about copyright, there is one thing left.
Think about this: Would you like to see your portrait on a highway billboard without being asked for permission? Most wouldn’t. Therefore, people who can be identified on a photograph must give their consent for public usage of their images. This consent is called “model release.”
By the way, the same rule applies to private property, landmarks, and trademarks.
But wait. How am I going to get consent from a celebrity? Isn’t this awfully complicated? Yes, but fortunately, a model release is not always required.
Jim Harmer, a lawyer and photographer, provides a good explanation in his blog:
“Generally, a model release is only required if the way the photo is published makes it seem that the person in the photo endorses the product, service, or organization. A model release would almost always be required if the use is for advertising.”
Placing a picture of Seth Godin on the front cover of my eBook or Magazine may well constitute a use for advertisement. A reasonable person would infer that Seth Godin endorses my eBook. However, “a model release is not needed for publishing the photo as news, or for artistic or editorial expression.”
Pixabay also suggests that, in general, posting an image on a blog does not require a model release because it would represent editorial usage.
Magazines publish numerous articles with pictures of famous people every day. Do they request a model release every time they post a story? According to photographer Dan Heller, “magazine and newspaper stories about people (famous or not) do not require releases for the photos because the article is merely an expression of free speech.”
When I write an article, I express my opinion and therefore need to use a relevant image to highlight my expression. So when I share my story on what I learned from the books of Seth Godin, I may just get away with using his photo as my “news, artistic, and editorial expression.”
The truth is: articles with images get 94% more views. Besides, what would be your story about Warren Buffet’s latest investment secret without his photograph splashed on the front of your article?
Finding a photograph of Warren Buffet on the internet is a piece of cake. But getting caught violating image copyright is easy too. Image recognition software has become so advanced that repositories monitor the web for infringing images automatically.
Copyright violation is not foreign to a writer. One writer shared his story of how he got caught. This time, he got away with an $800 fine and a black eye.
In the end, infringement isn’t worth it because there are millions of free images at our disposal:
- Sites like CreativeCommons.org, wikicommons.org, and flickr.com distribute high-quality photos under blogger-friendly licenses. But always check the license before you use or modify the image.
- Alternatively, ask for permission from the photographer to reuse the photo in your post. This option works more often than you may think.
Finally, when dealing with people on the image, Jim Harmer recommends to “never present the photo in a way that could make someone think that the pictured person endorses your business.”
Copyright law is complex, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t understand the basics. Because in the end, it is a writer’s responsibility to make sure the image with depicted celebrities, trademarks, property, etc., does not infringe any rights.
Oh, did I mention that I am not a lawyer? Because this article is only the expression of my opinion. You should consult with a licensed attorney before making critical legal decisions or drafting contracts.
Where can I find free images for my blog? ›
- Unsplash — Free image search.
- Burst – Free image search, built by Shopify.
- Pexels – free image search.
- Pixabay – free stock photos.
- Free images – stock photos.
- Kaboompics – photo search by color.
- Stocksnap free photos.
- Canva – free photo search and image editor.
The answer is Shutterstock. They're one of the top microstock agencies, and they only sell Royalty Free stock photos (this means you pay a flat fee to use the photos). In the last year, they've expanded their offer for the editorial content, and now they have a huge supply of famous celebrity stock photos.Can I use other people's pictures on my blog? ›
'Copyright' indicates that a person holds the rights to control where an image, blog post, etc. is published. They can give you permission to use their photo (e.g. if you email them to ask), but you can't (legally) use it without their permission.Which images can I use for free? ›
Use a stock photo site
One of the easiest ways to find an image that's free to use is to search for one on a stock image site, like Pexels, Unsplash, or Pixabay. The images on these sites are free, and providing credit to the artist is optional (although it's still a nice thing to do).
A great source for blog post images is Unsplash. The images on here are gorgeous, the website is easy to navigate and the licensing is very clear. All photos published on Unsplash, are free to be used for commercial and non-commercial use. You can even alter the images without needing to give the photographer credit.Are royalty-free images free to use? ›
An image that is royalty-free is not necessarily free for commercial use — that is, any use that could lead to buying or selling something. The most reliable image services require you to pay a fee for a license that allows you to use the image for commercial or non-commercial uses, as long as you follow the terms.Can I use pictures of celebrities on my blog? ›
Even if you lawfully purchased an image of a celebrity from a photographer or website, or if the image is in the public domain (or “free for use”) you must first obtain the permission of the individual concerned. This is because the purchase of the image only addresses the issue of copyright.Can I use images from Google for my blog? ›
The short answer is No, you cannot use pictures that you find on Google on your blog or website. There are a couple of different options for finding pictures for your posts online. If you do search on Google for images, it's important to ask for permission before using them in a post.Can I use Google images for free? ›
Google Images is free to use and you can find almost any image you can think of.Are Pinterest images free to use? ›
Using images on Pinterest
Except in unusual cases, Pinterest is not the copyright holder in the images that users pin on the site. Where necessary, you should get permission to use an image from its copyright owner.
Are Canva images copyright free? ›
What is allowed? All free photos, music and video files on Canva can be used for free for commercial and noncommercial use. If a photo, music or video file contains an identifiable person, place, logo or trademark, please ensure you check the image source or contact us if you're unsure.Are celebrity faces copyrighted? ›
They absolutely can. Not only are they protected by “personality rights”, many celebrities have their image trademarked. Trademark law has teeth. Copyright law does not apply, as copyright applies to creations, not to people.Are celebrities names copyrighted? ›
Under U.S. trademark law the celebrity name must function as a trademark, and indicate the source of the goods or services.Are celebrities public domain? ›
Yes, but only in specific circumstances. While the works a celebrity may produce—a movie, book, television show, album—are under copyright, their likeness is governed by trademark laws.Do blog posts need pictures? ›
It's crucial not only to include images but also to include the right images to help you craft and tell that story. Imagery should be an integral part of all blog posts. You should think of images the same way you think of your introduction or title: Your blog just won't work without them.Can I use Pinterest images on my blog? ›
You should NEVER copy anyone's writing or any work without seeking permission or giving proper credit to the author. Never steal or copy someone's blog posts, images or anything else that does not belong to you unless you want to be sued for copyright infringement and face severe legal consequences.What are license free images? ›
License-free images often have conditions that need to be considered. On a positive note for publishers, they are royalty-free images, which allow publishers to use copyrighted material without the need to pay license fees or royalties for each use.Are photos on Shutterstock free? ›
Although there is a charge for Shutterstock images, once you have purchased them, they become what is known as royalty-free. This means that you are granted copyright to the intellectual property and have the license to use what you buy in multiple ways on multiple applications.Can you use celebrity photos without permission? ›
Specifically, California recognizes both common law and statutory rights. California Civil Code, Section 3344, provides that it is unlawful, for the purpose of advertising or selling, to knowingly use another's name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness without that person's prior consent.
Are photos of famous people copyrighted? ›
Copyright applies as soon as someone creates an original piece of artwork. This happens regardless of whether a professional camera or a smartphone was used. The celebrity's picture may not even belong to the celebrity herself, but to the photographer who took the photo. They took it, They own it.Can I use pictures of famous people? ›
The short answer is no. You can't use an image of a famous person lawfully without the permission of the celebrity concerned.Can I use photos from Instagram on my blog? ›
At a minimum you are risking getting a nasty cease and desist letter from a lawyer and your blog, website or Instagram feed being shut down. Yes you can create some serious trouble for yourself if you use other people's content without permission. So don't do it. Learn how to take better photos yourself.Are all Google Images legal to view? ›
Most of the images that appear in a Google search are copyrighted. You can't use those without permission. Fortunately, Google's Advanced Image Search allows you to search for images with “commercial and other licenses.” Before using any of these images, click through to find the license details.How do I change a picture to avoid copyright? ›
If you edit an image that you didn't create, copyright law still applies. The only way to avoid copyright infringement with images is to create unique works, purchase a license to use an image or find a free-to-use image.How can I legally use Google Images? ›
- Always Assume the Image is Protected by Copyright. ...
- Linking. ...
- Use Your Own Photos and Images. ...
- Use Creative Commons-Licensed Images. ...
- Use Images From Stock Photo Agencies. ...
- Confirm Who Owns the Copyright in the Image.
Unless you own the copyright to an image or have a license from the owner, printing a copy of an image or posting it online without permission is a violation of copyright. It's up to the copyright holder to decide whether to sue you for infringement.Can I use Google images for my blog? ›
The short answer is No, you cannot use pictures that you find on Google on your blog or website. There are a couple of different options for finding pictures for your posts online. If you do search on Google for images, it's important to ask for permission before using them in a post.Can I use Shutterstock images on my blog? ›
Yes! You can use Shutterstock images on websites without any restrictions on the number of viewers or hits on the website. Under the Standard License, images can also be used in web video without regard to audience size, provided that the production budget is less than $10,000 USD.Can I use Pinterest images on my blog? ›
Can I use pixabay images on my blog? ›
Yes, you can use Pixabay media on social media platforms.Can I use pictures of celebrities on my blog? ›
Even if you lawfully purchased an image of a celebrity from a photographer or website, or if the image is in the public domain (or “free for use”) you must first obtain the permission of the individual concerned. This is because the purchase of the image only addresses the issue of copyright.Are Pinterest images copyright free? ›
Using images on Pinterest
Except in unusual cases, Pinterest is not the copyright holder in the images that users pin on the site. Where necessary, you should get permission to use an image from its copyright owner.
Yes, you can use Shutterstock images for free, but only the ten images are included in your free trial. You can also use the one weekly photo and one vector you get with the free account. After that, you'll have to pay for all Shutterstock images, starting at $0.22 per image.Are Shutterstock photos free? ›
No. Shutterstock is an online stock photo agency that sells royalty-free licenses to download and use stock imagery. Its photos aren't free, you have to pay for them.Do you lose copyright on Shutterstock? ›
You retain all copyright ownership to the content you submit. You give Shutterstock permission to reproduce, prepare derivative works incorporating, publicly display, market, sublicense, and sell any Submitted Content uploaded by you and accepted by Shutterstock.How do I find copyright free images on Pinterest? ›
Scroll to the bottom of the search form. Under the section "usage rights," scroll down and select the option "free to use and share." These will be images you can pin. Public Domain: Old pictures, old books, and other things that are no longer under copyright are fine.Do Pinterest pay you? ›
Pinterest will pay you directly if you're part of the Creator Rewards program and your content meets the goal requirements and eligibility criteria. Pinterest does not facilitate payment for other monetization programs like product tagging, affiliate links or brand partnerships.How can I use content from other blogs without violating copyright? ›
- Keep it 100% legal. ...
- Get an informal OK. ...
- Don't ask, but do provide credit and links. ...
- Subscribe to stock-image platforms. ...
- Use Creative Commons content. ...
- Honor takedown requests. ...
- Protect your original content. ...
All content (e.g. images, videos, music) on Pixabay can be used for free for commercial and noncommercial use across print and digital, except in the cases mentioned in "What is not allowed". Attribution is not required. Giving credit to the artist or Pixabay is not necessary but is always appreciated by our community.
Is Pixabay really copyright free? ›
Pixabay.com is a free stock photography and royalty-free stock media website. It is used for sharing photos, illustrations, vector graphics, film footage, and music, exclusively under the custom Pixabay license, which generally allows the free use of the material with some restrictions.Is it safe to use photos from Unsplash? ›
The photos on Unsplash are free to use and can be used for most commercial, personal projects, and for editorial use. You do not need to ask permission from or provide credit to the photographer or Unsplash, although it is appreciated when possible.